Blind Chicago woman wins $27,000 settlement in guide dog case

Last December, a blind Chicago woman received a $27,000 to settle a lawsuit in which she alleged that landlords turned her away because she uses a guide dog. The December 4, 1998 settlement came nearly six months after Theresa DeLaFont filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court in Chicago.

According to DeLaFont's complaint, Marjorie and Richard Brenton, the husband and wife who own the rental house in question, refused to let her view the house or submit an application because of her guide dog.  According to DeLaFont and her father, William, the Brentons repeatedly expressed concerns about the dog defecating in the house or in the yard.  According to William DeLaFont, Theresa has used Zanth, a Labrador retriever, for nine years.  In those nine years, according to the DeLaFonts, Zanth has never defecated or urinated inside their home.  
"She's never messed in the house the nine years we've had her," William DeLaFont told the News Sun of Lake County, Ill.  "She's like another human being in my home.  This dog is my daughter's companion and best friend."

Giving up Zanth to rent the Brentons' house was not something Theresa DeLaFont could do.  She told the Daily Herald, "I absolutely rely on her.  She is with me 24-7."

The discrimination against Theresa DeLaFont was especially harmful because she had planned on moving to Grayslake to finish her degree in education at the College of Lake County. Theresa has put those plans on hold, partially because the Brentons refused to rent her the house.  "The house is very close to the college and would have been perfect," William DeLaFont said in an interview.

Theresa DeLaFont took her complaint to the Fair Housing Center of Lake County.  Center staff listened to her allegations against the Brentons and got Jeffrey Taren, a cooperating attorney, to take the case.  Taren helped DeLaFont file the case in District Court in June 1998.

Taren said that the ordeal had left Theresa DeLaFont "very discouraged."  He told the Chicago Tribune that Theresa was embarrassed and humiliated, because she did not get to rent the Brenton's house.

Patricia Konicki, the executive director of the Lake County Fair Housing Center, told the Tribune that she hoped this settlement would send a message to landlords who might try to discriminate against persons with disabilities.  "It is my hope," Konicki said, "that people with disabilities realize that they have the same rights to housing as people without disabilities."